Finding my own path
The scene. A hot summer day at the public swimming pool in Krugersdorp. A skinny seven-year-old kid sees several teenagers leaping from the 15 feet diving platform. No one had told me (the skinny kid only just out of nappies) that I couldn’t jump from that platform. I was too stupid to know that it was dangerous. There was a tempting path leading to the steps. I took it and struggled up because the steps were as high as I was, and that was just two bricks and a tickey high. Looking down from that platform I was momentarily frightened. But I was there and what the heck. That idiot kid leapt. I descended with arms swinging wildly and legs kicking uncontrollably. It wasn’t pretty. I hit the water and doggy paddled furiously but all I saw was a myriad of bubbles which kept going up as I kept going down. A lifesaver pulled me out.
I didn’t know it then, but I learned a lesson that day.
There was a path
Years later when I was broadcasting and commentating sport, Tiger Woods, then at the peak of his career, was playing in the 1998 Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City. His presence as the world’s top golfer defined the tournament. The media was told that there would be no private interviews with Woods. We could ask him questions only as a group in the Media Centre.
It was Sunday afternoon. The final hole. The atmosphere was tense. Everyone was choking with excitement. Woods needed to hole a chip on the 18th for a birdie to force a play-off with Nick Price. He did, but Price went on to win the tournament. The Media Centre, which was in the squash court, was jam-packed. The world and his aunty wanted to ask Tiger about his disappointment at losing the playoff and Nick about his dramatic third victory in the Million Dollar. Every journalist, photographer and broadcaster was in the media centre. Except me. Earlier I had been in the Men’s room and overheard some officials mention that Woods would take a helicopter to the airport immediately after the post tournament media briefing. I had seen the helicopter land. There was a paved pathway from the media centre, leading across the lush green lawns of the Gary Player golf course, to the landing pad. When Tiger walked out of the media centre that skinny kid fell into step with him along the path. Matching him stride for stride (not easy for a very short guy like me) and, holding the microphone as high as I could, I asked, “South Africa loves Tiger Woods, does Tiger Woods love South Africa?” Some twenty-two years later I remember the moment and I remember the question. Woods said, of course, he loved South Africa, but I don’t remember anything else. I do know that I avoided the inane question about his loss in the play-off. The whirring blades of the chopper drowned out our voices. My lucky timing of being in the men’s room, a path to the chopper, and the crazy idea of waiting there, resulted in me being the only journalist in South Africa who had recorded a personal interview with Tiger Woods. I felt a lot taller than two bricks and a tickey.
I imagined a path
Nothing much had changed when Edwin Moses was the guest of honour at Pilditch Stadium in Pretoria. I was still acting crazy like that skinny kid and living my dream of broadcasting and commentating sport. Moses was the world record holder in the Men’s 400-metre hurdles in 1983. He had won 122 consecutive races, which included 107 finals, and held the world record of 47.02 seconds, for 9 years.
Members of the media were warned ‘Don’t even ask for a private interview with Mr Moses. We will escort you out of the stadium.’
An area of the grandstand at Pilditch Stadium was cordoned off where the VIPs were protected by burly guards with faces that looked like they had sucked a lemon. I was doing duty for Radio Sport on 2000 and was determined that I would have an interview with Moses. But how? The guards were slightly bigger than I am. Well, a lot bigger really, which isn’t difficult considering my distinct lack of stature. I am, in case you hadn’t realised that fact yet, what the pundits call ‘vertically challenged’. I remembered my luck at Sun City in that Men’s room and knew that when a man has to go, a man has to go. Ed Moses was a man.
Except that this time there was no paved path. I had to create one in my head.
I positioned myself on what I imagined was the path between the VIP area and the men’s room. I had fresh batteries in my tape recorder, steel in my mind and hope in my heart. I felt like that little boy on the diving platform. Momentarily frightened. The moment presented itself. One man had to go when he had to go and the other could to do what he wanted to do.
‘Ed,’ I said as he approached me along that imagined path. He was a lovely informal and entirely relaxed man. You are like that when you are a champion athlete with enormous confidence. ‘May I chat with you for a moment please?’
He stopped and smiled. The guards, who were a step behind us, stopped but didn’t smile. I was standing on my tippy toes just to get the mic close to Ed’s mouth. We chatted amiably about his proud record, the rising stars in South African athletics and the quality of our coaching. It was a spectacular moment for me. I did not push it too far. I was so excited that I might have peed in my pants and I certainly didn’t want to put pressure on Ed’s bladder by delaying him any longer. I was the only media person at Pilditch to have a personal interview with Ed Moses and I had learned another lesson. The skinny kid was slowly growing up.
When you set a goal, when you know what you want to do, find the path. If there isn’t one, create it, visualise it. See it clearly in your mind. Make it real. Know also that having insight and imagination isn’t enough. You have to act. Go to that path. Walk along it. Do what you have to do. Be better than that skinny frightened kid.
Thanks to Arja Salafranca and Niki Moore for assistance in editing and style